The Children of Conflict


February 12, 2014 09:17 EDT

The cost of conflict to a society is its children's future.


How do you measure the cost of a war? Deduce it in numbers and the scales begin to tip by a glaring margin. The last century, also the most murderous, saw nearly 203 million dead in over 355 wars and conflicts. The 21st century, just 14 years along, has already witnessed 35 conflicts with over 750,000 dead and counting. In 2011, the price tag of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone stood at a staggering $1,046 billion

While it is relatively easy to count body bags and evaluate concrete destruction, it is almost impossible to extrapolate the cost of disruption to societies and national building capacity through loss of future growth and development. Most critically the real cost of war to a community, often visible a decade later, manifests itself through the loss of opportunities and gainful progression for its next generation ­— its children. Measured in human tragedy, a war exacts its most terrible price from children.

Incessant violence, displacement, disruption to education, loss of family, limb or life — the children caught in conflicts not only lose their childhood but are also robbed of a future. An estimate puts the number of children living in conflict-affected areas today at 1 billion, out of which 300 million are under the age of 5.  

Alarmingly, children are now increasingly seen as a strategic target in armed conflicts. As is evident from violence in Sierra Leone, Chad, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Colombia, DR Congo, Afghanistan and Pakistan, they have also been consistently abused as child soldiers, sex slaves, suicide bombers and human shields. As of 2013, there are still 250,000 child soldiers fighting in conflicts across the world.

Why are Children of Conflict Relevant?

The indirect impact of violence and wars on children is equally catastrophic. In October 2013, Polio returned to Syria, 14 years after it was eradicated in the country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2.5 million Syrian children today urgently need the polio vaccine or risk contracting the virus. The first half of 2013 saw a 72% rise in child injuries and deaths from improvised explosive devices (IED) in Afghanistan.

The children living across the border between Sudan and South Sudan continue to face daily brutal violence, displacement and separation from family. Those whose families have found refuge in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps further inland are at an equally high-risk of malnourishment, diseases, abject poverty and abuse.

Iraqi children today face an even bleaker future than they did under Saddam Hussein. Thousands of children, especially war orphans, according to the United Nations International Emergency Children's Fund (UNICEF), have been diagnosed with severe irreversible psychological damage and will never be able to lead normal lives.

The same is now true of an alarmingly high number of former Tamil child soldiers in northern Sri Lanka, who are struggling to reintegrate into society after already having lost family, limbs and childhood to the country’s 30-year-long civil war.

With the emergence of new wars and change in the nature of conflicts in recent years, children across the world are now at greater risk of being harmed than before. A report, released in October 2013, warns that the number of children killed and injured in conflict will increase significantly by 2033 due to advancement in weapons, rapid urbanization, and increased conflicts over natural resources. 

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